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On UUSC’s blog, a range of contributors — from staff members to participants on experiential learning trips — share their thoughts and reflections on UUSC’s work and related topics. The views expressed by individual contributors here do not necessarily reflect the views of UUSC.
Submitted by Elyse Bartlett on Fri, 10/05/2012 - 6:55am.
The following post was written by Elyse Bartlett, a student at Emerson College and UUSC's summer election-engagement intern.
We live in a time when religious faith informs many of the most divisive issues that face our country. Homosexuality, abortion, assistance for low-income people, respect for the environment — these are all political issues that much of the electorate considers through the lens of their various faiths. As Unitarian Universalists, our diverse, colorful religious beliefs are closely intertwined with our moral and ethical commitments; the Seven Principles provide the framework for how we are to live as compassionate, loving members of a just and accepting society. It is vital that we remember this in the midst of the election season.
Political participation as well as supporting and encouraging others to engage can be a forceful way to shape society for the better. We can put our values into action as we cast our votes — and as we register and support other voters to engage in the election process.
When most people think of "religious voters," they think of the conservative right - those whose religious beliefs inform their voting in the way of "traditional family values" and "the sanctity of marriage." Some interpret their religion to condemn homosexuality and abortion, resulting in legislation that voids the LGBT community's basic civil liberties and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her own health and body. Some encourage the dismantling of foreign aid, or the detention of immigrants, or the profiling of racial and religious minorities. Such legislation is contrary to our own religious beliefs, an affront to our affirmation of the "the inherent worth and dignity of every person," "justice, equity, and compassion in human relations," and "acceptance of one another."
UUs are also faithful voters, standing up for and with those who are marginalized in our society and abroad. When the time comes to vote, we will vote for not only our religious beliefs but also what we believe to be morally and ethically right for our human community.
A large part of our country has stated its religious beliefs loud and clear, both in words and in the voting booths. It is time for us to answer with our own beliefs, words, and votes. Our Seven Principles are not just there to be affirmed within our congregations; we must live them as functioning members of our communities and our society at large. As UUs, our declaration of faith is action — what better way to serve your faith than to stand up for those facing injustice in this country?
As Election Day approaches, keep your values in the front of your mind and let them guide you through important decisions. Together, we can send a message to our lawmakers and our fellow citizens that we are a moral, faithful group, and we will never stop fighting for a compassionate and just society.
Submitted by admin on Tue, 09/18/2012 - 9:13am.
The following blog post was written by Maria Herrera, community advocacy director of the Community Water Center, a UUSC partner in California.
Activists and community members at a Sacramento protest for the human right in August 2011.
As we drove through Tulare County in California with a car full of community partners on the morning of August 29 to make the final push for A.B. 685, California's human-right-to-water bill, we were listening to a live broadcast of the floor discussion for the final assembly concurrence vote. Our minds raced with questions. Would we succeed in overcoming powerful interests to win the majority vote, or would our communities end up with another raw deal? And who would stand with our communities in support of our bill? And perhaps most important of all, would our local legislators vote for this measure that is so critical for the many communities without safe water in our region? As we made last-minute calls to our elected officials, reiterating the importance of this bill and demanding their public support for the many impacted communities in their districts, one thing was clear in our minds: we would not accept a no vote, especially from those legislators who know the problem so well! It was now or never.
With allies throughout the state, across the nation, and even overseas watching this long-awaited, historic vote, I wondered how many others were experiencing the same desire and anxiety that we felt in those final moments. And I wondered if those who have opposed this bill so vigorously for so many years were watching in disbelief that a small group of dedicated individuals, unwilling to remain silent and accept defeat, had made it this far.
But as legislators took the floor and began to speak in favor of A.B. 685, my fears evaporated. I knew we had achieved victory! As we listened to one floor speaker after another voice support for the human right to water in California, their words evoked memories of the last five years, replaying images in my mind of the efforts of the many community leaders that have brought us to this point. Mothers, grandfathers, high-school students, field workers, house cleaners, and caretakers, drawn together by a shared commitment to improve access to safe drinking water in their communities, and their many trips to the state capitol, the water justice community tours, the open-house events, the agency hearings, the night meetings — these were all brought to life by the words of our elected officials.
For those of us in the car, it was clear that our work had made a difference, that after more than four years of passionate advocacy to demand such a basic service, we were no longer the invisible, forgotten communities of California. Legislators from all over the state were telling our stories, on the floor of the assembly, in Sacramento, where decisions are made for the entire state to see and hear.
Assemblymember Mike Eng, the bill's author, said in his closing remarks that the time has come to revisit California's hundred-year-old water policy. In a moment of painfully honest self-reflection, he labeled California's water "an international disgrace," recalling that Catarina de Albuquerque, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, visited California in 2011.
As Eng spoke, I thought of my own family living in Seville, of my father laboring in the fields during the day and coming home in the evenings to Global South infrastructure and contaminated tap water. This issue is personal for me, just as it is for all of the amazing community residents with whom I have had the privilege to partner.
As the legislators concluded their floor statements and the aye votes tallied up to carry the day, I knew in my heart that A.B. 685 really is the right vehicle to bring positive change to California communities, because this legislation has developed from the ground up, as all public policies should! A.B. 685's passage is a victory, not just for those communities currently struggling to access safe water but also for all Californians at risk of contaminated drinking water, now or in the future.
Submitted by Ariel Jacobson on Mon, 09/10/2012 - 8:39am.
The following post was written by Ariel Jacobson, senior associate for UUSC's Economic Justice Program.
Do you care about ethical eating? Do you support sustainable, local businesses? I suspect your answer is yes, because more than 1,300 UUSC supporters have signed the Choose Compassionate Consumption (CCC) pledge. You've committed to aligning your purchases more closely with your values, and you affirmed that you care about how the goods you buy and services you patronize measure up when it comes to respecting workers' rights. I'm excited to share with you what we've accomplished through CCC and what's on the horizon.
What we've done together
Because of you, UUSC was able to help our partner the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) to send a strong message that we will not rest until restaurant workers are paid a decent wage and treated fairly. Because of you, we were able to tell Hershey that while we love kisses, we don't love child labor in the cocoa industry. And along with more than 2,600 of you, UUSC stood by our ally Equal Exchange, a worker-owned fair-trade company, adding our voices to a statement in solidarity with small-farmer cooperatives, asserting that fair trade is meant to support farmers who have been pushed to the margins — not to promote large plantation-style farms with lower standards.
Whether you're passionate about workers' rights, community access to healthy food, or environmental stewardship in agriculture, UUSC believes these issues are interconnected. And the reality is that we can use our power as consumers, driven by the values of our faith and social justice, to play a major role in creating a more just food system.
What's ahead for CCC
So I'm excited to share what's brewing for the upcoming year of UUSC's Choose Compassionate Consumption initiative. We'll continue our focus on advancing workers' rights, and we're inviting you to get involved. We need you to help us address the human-rights challenges that workers face throughout the food chain, to join us in improving labor conditions in the restaurant industry, and to bring fair trade back to its roots.
Workers along the food chain
We want to broaden the national conversation about what's important in our food system to include upholding the rights of workers. With 20 million jobs — one-sixth of the nation's workforce — in the U.S. food system, this is a segment of our economy that can't be ignored. Especially since many of these jobs are low paid and lack basic benefits like paid sick days. We'll be building upon the 2011 Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating with new worship materials, discussion guides, and other interactive tools to help you explore these questions on your own or in community with others.
Workers in the restaurant industry
ROC-United has spent more than a decade organizing workers in the restaurant industry across lines of race, gender, and class, and today has a presence in 19 cities across the country. ROC-United has also established a group of more than 60 restaurant employers that are models for how to treat their employees fairly while also growing their bottom line. But now, there's a unique opportunity for consumers to get involved as never before, to create the demand for restaurants to treat their workers as well as they treat their customers.
If you haven't viewed it already, I recommend watching the Behind the Kitchen Door trailer, and we hope you'll read the book when it's released on February 13, 2013 (in honor of the $2.13 per hour tipped minimum wage). Through this book, and some other exciting multimedia projects to come, we're inviting you to help us raise the consciousness of communities across the country, to infuse awareness of labor rights into the mainstream.
Since our main policy priority is to raise the tipped minimum wage that has been stuck at $2.13 since 1991 — leaving many restaurant workers, especially women, in poverty — alongside our partners ROC-United and Let Justice Roll, we'll continue to push Congress to give a raise to all minimum-wage workers.
Small farmers and fair trade
Finally, we'll maintain our commitment to fair trade through the UUSC Coffee Project. If you want to make a meaningful contribution by purchasing fairly traded products, which then also give back to small-farmer cooperatives through UUSC, we'll be offering tons of opportunities to accomplish that through new educational resources and through chocolate, coffee, tea, and other goodies — part of the joys of ethical eating!
The most wonderful thing is that we have the power to contribute, in both large and small ways, to building a more just food system that works for all. The futures of workers, businesses, and consumers depend on it, so let's get down to work.
Submitted by Elyse Bartlett on Fri, 09/07/2012 - 7:27am.
The following post was written by Elyse Bartlett, a student at Emerson College and UUSC's summer election-engagement intern.
The democratic process: it's essential to a just society that can adapt and mold to what its members need most at any given time. Respect for this process is core to Unitarian Universalist principles. We understand that everyone — not just the largest interest groups or those with the most money to contribute — must be given a voice in order for democracy to truly work. Every member of every community, no matter how silenced or marginalized, deserves a say in the shaping of our society. To deny this would be unfair to the individuals and to the democratic process itself.
When you're part of a faith-based nonprofit organization (like a UU church), you're an important force for achieving social justice and change. You care about the most marginalized groups in your community, and you do all you can to help them. The connection you have to these groups makes you an important asset to the democratic process. You have the power to engage a large amount of people who wouldn't otherwise consider voting. There are a lot of voices out there still going unheard — but we can make them heard.
Since UU churches are legally classified as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, the IRS has set down restrictions you must adhere to when getting involved in elections as a church member or representative. But these restrictions don't mean that you can't get involved. In a nutshell, your activities must all remain nonpartisan, meaning you cannot do or say anything that supports or opposes a political party or candidate. You can educate your community on the current state of politics by providing information and guides, hosting events, and encouraging people to carefully consider what's at stake and make their own informed voting decisions.
Remember: the most important thing about democracy is not who everyone votes for but simply that everyone gets the chance to vote. The most profound way you can help is in reaching out to every part of your community and lifting up the unheard voices. All it takes is getting acquainted with the rules, and you'll be ready to put your UU values at work for a more conscious and just community.
Submitted by Lauralyn Smith on Thu, 10/11/2012 - 12:46pm.
Many years ago when my son was still in elementary school, I worked as a server in a restaurant. Actually, to make ends meet as a single parent, I held down part-time jobs waitressing and bartending at three locations totaling about 70 hours a week. I survived on tips and was lucky most of the time. But my former roommate still jokes about those days, when she watched me literally counting change to make my share of the rent.
Today I am on staff at UUSC, a human-rights organization that has always been important to me as a longtime Unitarian Universalist. Working with UUSC's volunteer network, we help Unitarian Universalists raise awareness of and support for UUSC's efforts to protect workers and advocate for living wages. One of the benefits of working at UUSC is that I meet some of the dynamic people who work at other human-rights partner organizations.
I was particularly excited about a recent visit to our offices by Saru Jayaraman of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. So I got out a video camera to record some of her visit to UUSC! I hope you will take just a few minutes to check out what she has to say.
Political lobbying groups have actually frozen the national tipped minimum wage for over two decades. My son, an adult and college graduate, now works as a server in Washington State. There, the state law requires that tipped workers are paid the same as the state's regular minimum wage, $9.04 per hour. But tipped workers in many other states are not so lucky. The laws vary from state to state, tips fluctuate, and not all restaurant employers follow the laws. As a result, many workers end up only getting paid the federal minimum wage for tipped workers, which is still $2.13 per hour.
It is a cruel irony for me that the national tipped minimum wage — $2.13 per hour — is exactly the same as when I did this work at his age! As a parent, I naturally want safety and security for my hardworking son. As a UU, I am appalled that the federal tipped minimum wage — which was insufficient for restaurant workers 20 years ago — has actually spanned generations and is still frozen in time, creating dire situations for so many people.
You and I have opportunities to change that for the future. The first step is to raise awareness of how the big players in the restaurant industry, including the National Restaurant Association and the Darden restaurant group, are using their political muscle to freeze the minimum wage for tipped workers. Please watch the short video above and share it today.
Submitted by Patricia Jones on Thu, 08/30/2012 - 11:28am.
In the post below, Patricia Jones, UUSC's manager of environmental justice, reports on an exciting victory in California for the human right to water.
UUSC partner Laurel Firestone from the Community Water Center, Rev. Lindi Ramsden from the UU Legislative Action Network of California, and our friends and allies in the Safe Water Alliance were inside the state capitol in California on Wednesday for an amazing victory. The Human Right to Water Act of California (A.B. 685) was passed by the California Assembly and is headed to Governor Brown for his signature.
The little bill that could — did! A.B. 685 passed the last hurdle in the legislature with an overwhelming vote of 51-28. With support from the Sierra Club, the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, and Independents, the Safe Water Alliance is making history! Horacio Amezquita, of the San Jerardo Cooperative in the Salinas Valley, a farm-worker cooperative and member of the alliance, said after the vote: "This is great, good news for the love of justice, equity, life, and Mother Earth."
A.B. 685 states, "This bill would declare that it is the established policy of the state that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes."
What does the bill do if the governor signs? It will require all state agencies, in their discretionary power to set policy, regulations, and funding criteria for water programs, to "consider" the human right to water. It is a modest, first step toward justice in the United States for families and communities burdened with the toxic legacy of our industry and agriculture, and for households who do not have equitable access water services. UUSC is a cosponsor of the bill and a member of the Safe Water Alliance.
Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation, followed the debates in the state senate and assembly. She even sent an open letter to California legislators reminding them of her 2011 mission to the United States and her report about the serious water problems that communities in California face today. Assemblyman Mike Eng, the bill's author, read from her report during his closing remarks just before the vote was taken on Wednesday. Her recommendations to the U.S. government and local elected officials included passing human-right-to-water legislation, and she congratulated the groups and elected officials for taking this important step.
Governor Brown signed four of five bills in the 2011 water-justice bill package last October with a very positive statement of support for the human right to water — but the Safe Water Alliance is taking nothing for granted. Keep your eye on this space in the coming days! The arguments by opposition to the bill in the assembly chambers today were startling — from "pro life" to "natural law" to "constitutional law" — arguing that the California legislature had no right to create rights, only the creator could. Some legislators feared that the bill would cause lawsuits, that the bill would allow anyone to have water for free. At one point, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a supporter of the bill, rose and said, "Some of these arguments we are invited to consider are just crazy." We agree! Watch the final debate [Begins at 30:28].
Submitted by Martha Thompson on Tue, 08/28/2012 - 8:31am.
What does reconstruction in Haiti look like two and a half years after the 2012 earthquake? With about 390,000 people still in tents in the heat of Port-au-Prince? Well, according to the Haitian government, the U.S. State Department, and the Inter-American Development Bank, reconstruction in Haiti looks like the Caracol Industrial Park project they are building for $224 million in northern Haiti far from the site of the earthquake.
To build this "showcase" reconstruction project, the Haitian government evicted 366 farmers off fertile land in a country that cannot feed itself and where rural farmland is at a premium. According to a New York Times article on July 5, 2012, "The project includes a heavy fuel-oil power plant, a dense housing complex and a port" all supported by the U.S. State Department. Environmentalists are alarmed about the detrimental impact on the pristine bay and aquifer of a port, high-density housing, and the burning of heavy fuel oil. Funds approved by the U.S. Congress will go to build houses in Caracol, although they have not yet built any in Port-au- Prince. This reconstruction project to provide housing and jobs for homeless earthquake survivors begins by pushing 366 families off their land and will damage a fragile environment.
But these details pale in comparison to the labor record of the Korean company Sae-A, which the project's backers have actively recruited as the anchor company for the industrial park. According to the New York Times article, the Workers Rights Consortium, the AFL-CIO, and Guatemalan labor leaders have all documented labor-rights abuses — including use of force against union members, use of riot police, death threats, harassments, and assaults on workers — by Sae-A in their Guatemala factory. Why is Sae-A the employer of choice in a country that desperately needs decent jobs?
The Haitian historian and author Laurent DuBois said, "The way I see it, in a deep, long historical way, Haiti was founded by ex-slaves who overthrew a plantation systems and people keep trying to get them to return to some form of plantation." We all agree the people of Haiti suffered terribly in the earthquake. Is a reconstruction project that displaces families, damages the environment, and offers jobs under a ruthless sweatshop enterprise with a grave record of labor violations the best the U.S. government can come up with for reconstruction?
The U.S. government could improve this project in several ways. They could seek an employer with a good record in labor rights instead of Sae-A. They could provide funding for a labor-rights monitor. They could make sure they integrate stringent environmental protections into the project plan. They could ensure that there is adequate housing for workers and guarantee adequate pay. They could guarantee that the displaced farmers have access to ongoing livelihoods or access to other viable land. All of these actions would signal that this is a reconstruction effort that takes into account the voices of the Haitian people, that sees them as active participants — not submissive recipients — in this effort.